Game of the Week
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Photo: Woodbridge assistant coach Mark Isaacs (top photo) tries to fire up the Blue Raider defense in the first half while Woodbridge fans (bottom) show their appreciation for the team's 10-1 season after the game.
SEAFORD -- The Woodbridge High School football team learned some difficult lessons for the future at the feet of the masters Saturday night.
In a 35-13 loss to two-time defending state champion Middletown in the semifinals of the Delaware Division II state high school football tournament, the Blue Raiders learned you can't make mistakes against great teams and still hope to win.
"This was a very satisfying season but obviously we're not totally happy," said Raider head coach John Parker, who guided the team to the school's first state tournament appearance this season after consecutive 1-9 seasons.
"Winning is a lot more fun than losing. Some people say you learn more from losing than winning but I don't think that's true. I do think this (first tournament appearance) is a great platform for our underclassmen to set us up for where we want to be in the future."
The Raiders stiffened their resolve to actually outscore the Cavaliers, now 9-2 overall, 6-0 in the second half. But mistakes sealed the Raiders' fate barely a quarter and a half into the contest and ended their season.
In suffering their first loss of the year after going 10-0 in the regular season and clinching their first Henlopen Conference Southern Division crown and first state tournament berth, the Raiders fell behind the Blue Hen Conference Flight B champions 28-0 midway through the second quarter.
Two lost fumbles, three more fumbles that resulted in big losses, senseless penalties, two dropped passes near the goal line, and an inability to stop Middletown running back Brandon Brown, the state's co-offensive player of the year in 1998, left the Raiders staring at a 35-7 halftime deficit.
Brown, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards during the regular season, sat out the entire second half but rushed for 145 yards and scored touchdowns on runs of 67, 8 and 3 yards in the first half against a Raider defense that shut out 7 of its 10 regular season opponents.
As for the mistakes, they started with a clipping penalty that stalled a drive that began with a C.J. Pitts recovery of a Middletown fumble at the Woodbridge 45. After that opportunity went awry, Brown shed a couple of tackles on the 67-yard touchdown romp that gave the Cavaliers a 6-0 lead with 6:59 left in the first quarter.
Personal fouls on back-to-back possessions by Raider senior fullback and linebacker Corey Sanders thwarted the next Woodbridge drive and helped Middletown to its next score on an 8-yard run by Brown that made it 14-0 Middletown with 5:10 to go in the first period.
The Raiders mounted another impressive drive after that score, but it stalled at the Middletown 9 when tight end Chris Horsey and wide receiver Jerermy Maddox, who each totalled 73 receiving yards, had passes slip through their hands near the goal-line. The drive then stopped altogether when quarterback Jason Rust's fumble was recovered by Middletown's Jamil McGhee back at the Cavalier 23.
Middletown then marched 77 yards in 11 plays including a critical offsides call against Woodbridge on a third-and-one situation that gave the Cavaliers a first down at the Raider 44. The Cavaliers eventually turned that gift into a 3-yard TD run by Brown for a 20-0 lead.
Matters quickly got worse for Woodbridge as freshman running back Jamil Young lost 12 yards on a fumble that was recovered by Middletown's Rausheen Lively at the Raider 28. Four plays later, Lively scored from 8 yards out to make it 28-0 with 5:54 left in the second quarter.
The Raiders did turn a fumble into a touchdown just before halftime as Horsey picked up a fumble by Pitts at the Middletown 3 and bulled his way into the end zone to cut the gap to 28-7 with 3:45 to go before halftime.
But Middletown came right back with a deflating score on a 45-yard touchdown run by fullback J.C. Morgan to make it 35-7 going into the locker room.
Woodbridge stiffened in the second half and scored the half's only touchdown on a 4-yard run by Sanders to make it 35-13. The score capped an 87-yard drive that included a 40-yard pass from Rust to Horsey and a 23-yarder from Rust to Maddox to the Middletown 4.
The Cavaliers failed to score in the second half as they sat Brown and Morgan, their starting running backs, the entire half.
For the game, Middletown outgained Woodbridge 367-216 including 251 yards rushing in the first half. The Cavaliers had 16 first downs to the Blue Raiders' 9.
6:59 -- MIDDLETOWN (6-0 Middletown)
4:30 -- MIDDLETOWN (14-0 Middletown)
8:11 -- MIDDLETOWN (20-0 Middletown)
5:54 -- MIDDLETOWN (28-0 Middletown)
3:45 -- WOODBRIDGE (28-7 Middletown)
3:09 -- MIDDLETOWN (35-7 Middletown)
:41 -- WOODBRIDGE (35-13 Middletown)
Woodbridge head coach John Parker on the season:
"This (state tournament berth) is the culmination of everything. Every one of these young men is a success and a champion in my view. Middletown was obviously a formidable foe but I can't say enough about these guys. They have nothing to be ashamed of. They're champions in my mind and everyone else's mind. This will be a great platform to set us up for where we want to be in the future."
Parker on his players' reaction to their first loss of the season:
"They're disappointed ... I hope they're disappointed. It was a very satisfying season but we're obviously not totally happy. I hope that the young men will work hard in the offseason and not come back and rest on their laurels."
Parker on the last game of his four seniors -- Adam Hickman, C.J. Pitts, Jason Rust, and Corey Sanders:
"We'll have to replace those guys next year but the bottom line is we can't replace them. I don't think we can. We'll try somehow. They've shown tremendous leadership and effort all year."
Parker on the mistakes that doomed his team in the first half:
"We shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times. We didn't do some things that we talked about earlier in the week like limiting our turnovers. We had too many penalties, too. I don't know if it was that we were too hyped up and playing hard and aggressive. It's a fine line between pulling back and playing with your pedal to the medal."
Parker on Middletown:
"Middletown is a well-oiled and disciplined team. They were running on all 8 cylinders in the first half. They were cranked up and rolling."
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